The following post is the sixth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is chock full of commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!
Breakfast at The Three Pigeons Inn, Brentford
In the 17th and 18th centuries when Brentford was a thriving market and resort town, the Three Pigeons Inn was famous for its post-horses, of which it could stable up to one hundred. Its varied entertainments can be found in such literature as The Roaring Girle or Moll Cut-Purse (1611), She Stoops to Conquer (1773), The Merrie Conceited Jests of George Peele—The Jests of George Peele with Four of His Companions at Brainford (1607) and The Alchemist 1610).
It’s snowing when our intrepid passengers are refreshed after their breakfast at The Three Pigeons. “…the coachman’s nose beams a benignant purple, and the ostler recommends another glass as an antidote to the weather, of which he presages the worst.”
Following their earlier adventure with the highway (see the previous post), the ladies are more concerned with the possibility of further encounters with outlaws. Mirabel, our gallant hero, squeezes the lovely Belinda’s hand in reassurance and they exchange “delicious looks.”
Upon reaching Hounslow, the coach begins to jolt and stops at The George Inn, where the landlord, who has six empty beds, warns them that the Bath Flying Machine has been snowed up at Colnbrook and that they had best stop for the night. “As sole answer to this appeal, the coachman, full of valour, calls for more brandy, and two more horses to take them over the heath…”
The first thing they encounter is the Salisbury Fly in a snowdrift.
The driver of the Exeter Fly observes this catastrophe, but he does not regard it, or regards it purely as a landmark, and majestically avoids the pit into which his unfortunate brother has fallen.
“The snow drives; the wind blows it full in their faces; the horses begin to show signs of suddenly capitulating.” The coachman whips them unmercifully, but they slow down to a walk. The passengers begin to believe they are lost, but then the snow relents, and the coach pulls in to The Bush at Staines. The landlord counsels them to stay for the night, and the passengers, if truth be told, would like to follow that advice.
Success, stimulant, and the lull in the snow storm have, however, made the coachman daring. He observes thickly that he is an Englishman, and declares his intention of inning at Bagshot for the night, whether the passengers leave the coach or stick to it. Upon this, the young captor of the highwayman [Mirabel] says, blushing with ingenuous shame, that he is willing to go on; upon which the lady [Belinda], blushing also, says that she is willing too. This necessitates the mother also putting her neck in jeopardy, and she, too, re-enters the coach.
After this, the lawyer and the captain cannot honorably refuse, so the coach takes off with a full quota of passengers, and the snow begins to fall once more. Nerves on edge, the captain and the lawyer bicker, the guard, fearing highwaymen, takes out his blunderbuss, and the coachman tries to urge the horses to go faster as they approach Bagshot Heath. “…but highwaymen are not such fools as to be out in such weather, and the driver, who can see nothing at all, drives into a rut a yard deep.”
The gallant Mirabel takes the opportunity to rescue Belinda and her mother from the overturned coach, then turning to do the same with the rest of the motley crew. At that point he suggests that someone go on ahead to The King’s Arms at Bagshot to get help.
“The only answer to this appeal comes from the guard, who raises his blunderbuss gravely, and mistaking a too curious shepherd who approaches from behind a bush for a footpad, shoots him…”
The injured shepherd is given a bottle of brandy, and Mirabel, realizing he cannot be in two places at one time, confers the safety of the ladies to the lawyer, and takes off on one of the horses to get help. In under an hour, the rescuers approach, only to be shot at by the guard, who is drunk with power at having just shot the shepherd.
All’s Well That Ends Well
All the way to the King’s Arms he [the guard] babbles of the hundred pounds due him for ridding the heath of a footpad; the shepherd consults the lawyer meanwhile as to damages and as to how an action would lie…Mirabel gently presses Belinda’s hand and the pressure is ever so faintly returned…and the party arrive finally at The King’s Arms, Bagshot where a wonderful display of good cheer oppresses a groaning table—“Iris-tinted rounds of beef, marble-veined ribs, gelatinous veal pies, colossal hams, gallons of old ale, bins full of old port and burgundy.”
And here, in the midst of an old English plenty, my travellers are snowed up for nearly a week. And Mirabel proposes to Belinda, and is accepted; and the man of law drinks a congratulatory bottle of port with the fortunate wooer; and proposes himself to the widow next day, and is refused; and Mirabel drinks a bottle of port with him—a consolatory one this time; and the guard is forgiven by the shepherd; and the captain is rude to Betty the chambermaid, and gets his face slapped for his pains in a long oak corridor; and so in the old coaching days, when Exter was five days’ journey from London, and ladies wore hoops and farthingales, and gentlemen bag wigs and three-cornered hats, the old coaching world went round.
I love a happy ending. Don’t you?
BTW, today you could travel from Brentford to Bagshot in 36 minutes. But perhaps not in snowstorm.
Susana’s August Giveaway*
Susana brought back some lovely treasures from her trip to England, and she’d like to share them with you. This month she’s giving away a lovely mug (purchased at Chatsworth) illustrated with a famous painting of the Duchess of Devonshire.
Click on the image of the mug in the right column to enter the Rafflecopter. A runner-up will win “The Regency: Love’s Golden Age” mug. Enter every day if you wish! Good luck!
*International winners will receive the equivalent in gift cards.